Rokkan v Rokkan. An excellent primer on the concept and consequences of characterisation in the conflict of laws.

Rokkan v Rokkan & Anor [2021] EWHC 481 (Ch) is most excellent material for anyone looking to teach and /or understand the concept of ‘characterisation’ in private international law /the conflict of laws.

It also of course shows how qualification may be used (albeit here unsuccessfully) to try and reverse the unfortunate consequences of a particular action. In essence, claimant is a son of the deceased (she died in 2016 domiciled in the UK having lived there for a long time) who in her  2012 testament had been given the funds in two Norwegian bank accounts of the deceased, which she had emptied in 2014 via transfers to the UK.

Upon the 1979 death in Norway of her husband, the surviving spouse had applied for “uskifte” or “deferred probate” by which, in broad terms, the surviving spouse may apply to the court for an order by which (s)he is allowed to possess the whole of the joint estate of the deceased and the surviving spouse, and becomes subject to various obligations. The law provides that when the surviving spouse dies the joint estate is divided in two and each half passes to the heirs of the deceased spouse and the surviving spouse respectively (who may of course be the same).

Under England and Wales inheritance laws there is no reserved share. For claimant to obtain part of the estate, he must qualify his claim as something else than one in inheritance. The routes he opts for, are contractual (the argument here being that by exercising the right of deferred probate, the now deceased undertook obligations which were contractual and are governed by Norwegian law) or in trust (applying for and being granted deferred probate gave rise to a trust, whereby the now deceased held the joint assets on trust for herself but also for the first deceased heirs. It is alleged that the trust is governed by Norwegian law).

The characterisation principles are laid out at 33 ff, with focus mostly on characterisation following lex fori. Miles J does not discuss the role of the Rome Regulations (one imagines parties had not done so either) and under Rome I in particular, plenty of exceptions (family relationships, constitution of trusts) might well kick in. At 39 ff for the contract claim and at 49 ff for the trust claim under the Hague Convention, he rather swiftly decides the arguments are contrived: the Norwegian regime is near-entirely determined by Statute and that the initial kick-off requires the surviving spouse to apply for it, does not in and of itself render the whole regime a contractual one.

Good teaching material. Geert.

EU private international law 3rd ed. 2021, ia para 1.13

 

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